This article was previously published on Proclamaction.org, a blog TEAM used to maintain. This morning, a friend of mine posted an experience on Facebook in which he did not live up to his own desired standard of behavior in helping someone in need. His experience reminded me of a shortcoming of my own I had written about two years ago and this led to the republishing of this story of Shame in the Market.
SHAME IN THE MARKET
The Gotu market in Beira, Mozambique is one of the ugliest places I have ever seen. Hundreds of stick shacks with torn plastic sheets or mangled old tin for roofs make up the market place . Uncountable numbers of people push, shove and jostle each other in their search for whatever. Unimaginable body odors and the stench of accumulated urine make breathing an agony to be endured. In the rainy season, the time of the year I visited the market, the walkways between the stalls are ponds and rivers of black, oozy mud that works its way up your shoes as you walk through it. Every step taken is a reminder that you are just microns away from actually having your skin come in contact with that moist, filthy precursor to a soggy Hell. In an effort to create a dry walkway, unsold clothing, rags, bags and other refuse are thrown to the ground in what is nothing but a vain attempt at achieving their purpose. The useless effort results in a spongy surface that in itself becomes a muddy mess after just a few moments. The only pretty things in sight are the brightly colored mosquito nets flapping in the putrid, nostril -offending breeze. Of course, the mosquito nets serve as constant reminder that malaria is never more than one small proboscis prick away. Fruits and vegetables are piled on plastic sheets spread out on top of the mud. Passing feet hurl droplets of ooze onto them as they squish and splash past. Dogs walk by doing whatever dogs do. Occasionally the neatly stacked fruit piles would collapse, the fruit rolling into the mud and crud of the walkway. A swipe with a dirty rag would clean off the visible mud, and the stack would be reengineered.
As I walked through the filth and muck of the Beira market, a young woman walked towards me with a fairly large cooler on her head. She did not see a wooden pole stretched across the walkway about 6 feet off the ground. The cooler crashed into the pole and tumbled from the young woman’s head into the muck and filth of the walkway. The lid flew open and the contents–bottled water, sodas, and fruit drinks–crashed to the soggy, muddy, putrid ground.
Immediately the men all around started to laugh, tease and torment her. Her eyes filled with tears. In what seemed like the quick action of movie preview I could see scrolling in her eyes a whole series of emotions– embarrassment, anger at the laughing men, and worry. This was her business. Selling the drinks was how she provided for her children; and now her wares were broken, filthy, some of them unusable , their spilled contents adding fresh new ingredients to the muck and filth of the walkway.
This happened right in front of me. I saw it happen. I watched it unfold. What did I do? To my shame–nothing. My initial reaction was to help, to stoop down and help her recover that which had survived the fall and was not broken open. But I just stood there for a second and then walked away. Why? This is not who I am. I love to help people. I am not afraid of filth. In other instances I have risked my life in order to help the hurting. I have been in worse places and seen worse things than this. How could I have walked away like I did?
I woke up at 3:00 in the morning, agonizing over how I had betrayed Jesus by not responding to this young woman’s crisis. I could not go back to sleep. At 6:30 when my missionary co-workers got up, I apologized to them for not having helped that woman. And now I am confessing to you the reader that I denied Jesus by not loving and serving that woman. I have wished a thousand times I could go back 24 hours and redo that moment. That opportunity is gone forever: but my hope is that by writing to you about my failure, you will not fall into the same Jesus-denying inactivity that I did.
The question remains, how could I have walked away like I did? The short answer: I’m too smart for my own good. As a missionary trained to think cross-culturally, I immediately began to play back in my mind the things I have learned over the years. If I helped this woman would I ultimately end up shaming her more? If I knelt in the mud next to her to help, would I be a threat to her husband? In that culture, by helping her retrieve her wares would I in essence be declaring my intentions for her? What if she were Muslim? Would I be risking my head by “flirting” with another man’s wife? My host was on his way to meet his wife on the other side of the market: would my stopping to help interfere with his schedule? What about the missionaries I was with? Should I follow their lead? Or were they just as confused as I was?
These really are the thoughts that raced through my mind. These were the thoughts that shackled Jesus’ hands and feet and kept them from doing what they should have in that moment. Oh, how I wish I could go back 24 hours and redo that moment. Oh, that I had followed my initial emotion and helped the young woman instead of letting my training and experience educate me beyond the point of usefulness. Never again!